At the highest level of NASCAR there are select organizations that afford drivers the opportunity to win races consistently. And if one thing has been proven this season it is with the right driver Furniture Row Racing is one of those teams.
With Kurt Busch behind the wheel of its No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row has achieved unprecedented heights this year in becoming the first single-car team ever to qualify for the Chase.
And while Busch, deservedly, gets the bulk of the credit for the team's success the pieces are in place for Furniture Row to become a steady challenger year in and year out. The team shares a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing, which also provides Furniture Row with cars and motors, has a savvy crew chief in Todd Berrier and as its Chase berth indicates, is the one small team capable of running with the sport's elite.
But the chance to join powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 was too much for Busch to pass up, and accordingly Furniture Row is in need of a driver for next season.
However, finding Busch's replacement is problematic, as drivers who could provide comparable results -- or something close to them -- have already secured rides for next year.
Ryan Newman, a 17-time winner in Cup, is headed to RCR. And though he doesn't have a long track record of success in stock cars compared to Busch or Newman, Juan Montoya has shown a knack for being competitive -- albeit wildly inconsistent. But on Monday the former open-wheel pilot elected to return to his roots and signed to driver for Roger Penske's IndyCar team.
All of which means its back to the drawing board for Furniture Row. As for which direction the team will head, Busch offered a hint Tuesday during a national teleconference with reporters.
"I think the level of driver that they're looking for would be somebody with experience as well as somebody that has the potential to grow into whom would best fit that role," Busch said. "But we're starting to run out of those experienced drivers, such as Juan Pablo Montoya. ... You're now looking at guys like a David Ragan as a veteran or a Scott Speed. One of the dark horses that nobody is really looking at that I think would be a good candidate is a Josh Wise.
"But the list can go on and on. You have (Dave) Blaney's son, you have (Ryan) Truex, there's probably everybody that wants a Chase ride. ... But I see a young guy fitting in over there that can grow with the team just based off of what I've seen with their negotiations."
So knowing the team is looking younger, here are some viable candidates for Furniture Row to consider along with one alternative that doesn't quite fit the demographic.
There is no doubting Dillon's ability as he is considered a future star of the sport and if the team was looking for a driver to groom he would fit the criteria. And with the close association Furniture Row shares with RCR tabbing Richard Childress' grandson would only solidify that relationship. But Dillon is only in his second season in the Truck Series and while other drivers have made the leap -- most notably Busch -- it seems this like an opportunity Dillon is not quite prepared for.
Like Dillon, Blaney is regarded as a future star. Still in his first full season in the Truck Series the 19-year-old has impressed with a win at the tricky Pocono Raceway and in limited forays in Nationwide has been competitive. But like Dillon, Blaney's experience -- or lack thereof -- is a concern. Not to mention he would have to be pried away from Penske Racing, which has him under contract.
Sam Hornish Jr.
After washing out of Cup and revitalizing his career in the Nationwide Series where he's the current points leader, Hornish, 34, is hungry to return. Furniture Row would be getting a driver determined to show he's deserving of a top ride; a similar mindset to the one Busch had when he signed with Furniture Row. And look how good that turned out.
If Furniture Row wants youth then the Cup veteran of 20 years is the antithesis. But with a lack of candidates who could come close to producing anything close to the results Busch has racked up, why not go with Burton? He's still reasonably competitive and represents a nice one-year stopgap as the team searches for the long-term answer.